Sunday, April 09, 2006

For Life

I worked with this gang kid in a juvenile facility many years ago. He was soft spoken and always had a joke to tell. I remember one year shortly after Christmas he came to me and asked for a Band-aid. I asked him if he had hurt himself and he said no. He just needed it for his coat.

“For your coat?” I asked. He proceeded to tell me that his grandmother bought him a Chicago Bulls jacket for Christmas. A very expensive one at that. But he wouldn’t go into detail as to why he needed a bandage for the coat. Once I knew he had a Bulls jacket I knew.

He was a member of a gang that was not permitted to wear Bulls’ clothing. The Bulls’ jacket represented a rival gang and placing a Band-aid on it would show disrespect for the rival gang. Having this little bandage would allow him to wear the coat without “violating” his gang.

He was a slave and didn’t even know it.

They dictated what colors he could wear, what sports team clothing he could wear, what foods he could eat, and just about every other aspect of his life.

For life.

When he joined the gang they never told him all of the little rules that would dominate his life forever. Even if that “forever” only lasted until someone shot him to death over wearing the wrong clothes.

He was a slave to a system of beliefs that wouldn’t even allow him to honor his grandmother’s gift to him.

A few years later I found out that this “funny kid” raped a day care worker in front of her kids.

Some life. Now the only clothes he wears are the striped outfits provided by the state penitentiary.

I hear it all the time from kids. Over and over again.

Regrets and sorrow that they ever gave their lives to the gang. So many of these young people who have been in for so long wish they had never joined. I’ve never met one yet who has been in a long time and is glad he joined this life of slavery.

But I’ve seen plenty of them surrender their lives to the Crips, Bloods, Surenos, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and so on. Only later on to surrender their lives to prison, to a wheelchair, to a grave.

Down for life takes on a whole new meaning when you think about what life in the gang means.

Always looking over your back. Having other people tell you what you can and cannot wear, eat, or say. Dodging bullets, dodging cops, dodging life in general.

For life is a commitment. A commitment that will either be imposed on you by the gang or by the judge. Either way, for life, really means the end of life.

Sometimes in a very permanent way.